Jrue Holiday lifts Pelicans with game-saving block in Game 1

The Pelicans defeated the Trail Blazers, 97-95 tonight in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round to take a 1-0 series lead.

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It was the second time in the past few weeks the New Orleans Pelicans guard swatted away a shot by Portland Trail Blazers guard Pat Connaughton in the final moments. The Trail Blazers will have home-court advantage as the third seed, and New Orleans will be the sixth seed after Portland beat Utah later Wednesday. The victor of this series will be the team that best alleviates that pressure-whether through role players stepping up as contributors or stars, through some creative quirk, circumventing the premise entirely. Finished 14-27 on the road, where they’ll start the playoffs.

The Pelicans saw their 19-point lead shrink to one point with under a minute left, and after Anthony Davis made two free throws, the lead went back up to three. Nikola Mirotic was stellar with 16 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, and four blocks. The other key is Anthony Davis. “It was a fun game”. Both sides have some of the best talent in the league at both ends of the floor, meaning this will probably be a better series than your average 3 v 6 matchup. “We thought it was important to dictate the tempo and I thought I did that, especially in the second quarter”. “He’s making sure we’re making the effort to get back into the offense and get some assists for him”. The victor of San Antonio’s visit to New Orleans and Denver’s visit to Minnesota will determine Golden State’s first-round opponent.

NOTABLE • Portland’s bench scored 18 points in the first half compared to just eight points by Pelicans reserves.

“I think it’s very important to him that we found a way to win, not just the game, but he wants to win the series”, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.

Davis got help from fellow star Jrue Holiday, who delivered 21 points and seven rebounds. Tony Parker and Dejounte Murray added 11 points each and Kyle Anderson, Bryn Forbes and Brandon Paul had 10 each.

Even Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich series of early timeouts couldn’t slow the Pelicans’ momentum, as they repeatedly raced out on the fast break and attacked San Antonio at the rim.

“It’s amusing because we always put a clip on [the video edit] that says “game-winning plays” and today it actually was Jrue blocking [Connaughton’s] shot in the Portland game”, Gentry said, per ESPN’s Kevin Pelton.

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Lacking in athleticism and basketball IQ, Jusuf Nurkic will need to continue his improved defense and look Davis square in the face and affect his game. In their two victories against New Orleans, the Blazers either grabbed more total rebounds or more offensive rebounds. “And now they’re saying in their locker room, ‘We got one, why not get another?'”

Three keys to the Blazers first-round playoff series against the Pelicans